First off, let me apologize for falling off the blogosphere for the last 2 weeks!
Between a wonderful spring break in Mexico with my children and the week of recovering from said vacation, my priorities got a bit “unbalanced. ” Thanks for sticking around to see what’s next!
Tonight, I’m having a few families over for Cinco de Mayo tacos and margaritas – just a casual dinner with plenty of time beforehand for homework and everyone leaving in time to get the kiddos to bed. My 8-year-old informed me somewhat politely that Cinco de Mayo “really isn’t as big of a deal in Mexico as we make it here.” I explained to her that she was absolutely right, that I was thrilled she was learning so much about other cultures in school (thank you, Senor Moncado!) and that we were going to celebrate it anyway – because Mommy likes margaritas.
In fact, Mommy likes any excuse for a celebration and any excuse to introduce elements of diverse cultures into our family’s fairly white-bread-American life.
There is a growing push to increase cultural awareness in schools and diversity in literature. For much more on the need for diversity in children’s literature check out the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag on twitter or some of these great resources: Children’s Bookshelf, WeNeedDiverseBooks.
In this vein, may I suggest the following #RaisingReaders approved ways to explore diverse cultures with your family.
- Grandma and Grandpa (or Auntie Priya, or Great-Uncle Giuseppe.) If you have a relative or neighbor who grew up speaking a language other than English, grew up in another country, or was raised on stories from another culture – make a point to have them share those stories with your kids. If you can find printed versions of children’s books in that language, let Grandma read them aloud to the kids. Have your relative teach the kids not just to say, but to read and write a few words in their native language. If there are different letters or symbols in the written language, take some time to talk about them and look at how they change reading and pronunciation. Ask a relative to write a letter or email to your kids that includes some words in another language. Then see if your kids can figure them out from context.
- Lists! Check out some of the great books on these diversity-filled lists: Goodreads diversity picks, 35 Mulitcultural Early Chapter Books, No Time for FlashCards Multicultural Books for Kids post, Cynththia Leitich Smith’s excellent listing of interracial-themed picture books.
- Cookbooks offer a great glimpse of another culture – whether your heritage or one unfamiliar to you. It’s easy to find cookbooks featuring one or many cultures at your local library or bookstore – or to print recipes found online. Kids of all ages can help read the recipes, plan a grocery list, and participate in making something delicious from another country. Many cookbooks also feature articles on the histories and traditions behind certain foods.
- Vacation Guides are another fun and free way to learn about other cultures. You can often send for a guide to another country or region and have the fun of waiting for it to arrive in the mail, reading articles about its history, people, and places to visit. Or pick up some guides at a local travel agent. Plan a virtual vacation with your kids – or use these guides as a jumping board to find things that interest your children. Then use the non-fiction area of your local library to learn even more.
- Sports news and biographies are great ways for kids to learn about the world. You can look up books or articles about World Cup soccer, Olympic gymnastics, or Russian ice-hockey, to name a few. Reading about famous athletes from around the world is a great way to interest kids in other cultures.
- Websites that inspire inquiry. Try reading and watching videos about countries and cultures near and far at Nat Geo Kids. My children love this website and have gone on binges of learning about new places after being introduced to them online. Around the World by Time for Kids is great for 8-12 year-olds. It features information on location and history, but also shows a day in the life of a child in that country and allows you to play words spoken in the native language and learn their meaning. The site includes quizzes to test learning comprehension, if you’re into that kind of thing. Explore and More is good for kids of many ages, with games, geography, language, and more. It also has tips for parents and teachers.
- PenPals whether by snail mail or email, writing to a penpal in another country and reading about his or her life is an amazingly personal way to learn about another culture. (Personally, I prefer snail mail. I like to draw pictures in the margins and save the letters in a shoebox.)
I’m sure you have many more ideas for encouraging kids to read and learn about different cultures. Or perhaps you have a favorite book about another culture? Please, comment below! I love to hear from you.